Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"A Band Where Every Member's a Virtuoso"

Doug:  A few weeks ago I was engaged in a conversation on Twitter with one of our new commenters, Horace Austin.  We had begun talking about The Who, a favorite topic of Mr. Austin's.  At some point we moved into conversation about Rush and I remarked about the incredible prowess of each of the three members -- Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and the incomparable Neal Peart.  Horace came back with a statement close to the title of today's post.  So, today we bring this to the greater roster of BAB readers -- who in the annals of rock music would you consider a "virtuoso", and is there another band where every member is at the top of the field as are the three members of Rush?  I've included a few samples of Rush getting it on, and you are certainly welcome to post links to bands or musicians of your choice for our further discussion.

Doug:  And to Horace -- thanks for the idea today!



Edo Bosnar said...

Rush is a band I'd pick, too.
I think some of the first "super groups" or "power bands" from the late '60s all fall into this category: Cream, Blind Faith, the Jimi Hendrix Experience...
Two other bands that come to mind, but probably don't count because they each have lead singers who rarely if ever played an instrument (when with their respective bands), are Led Zeppelin and Yes. The latter in particular when their line-up consisted of Chris Squire (who else?) on bass, Steve Howe on guitar, Bill Bruford on drums and Rick Wakeman on keyboards - every single one of those guys is a top-notch talent.

Tony said...

After Rush, there isn't any more discussion. Back in the day, when they were at their best, I would have put up a half-hearted argument for The Police, or U2. Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, and The Edge are amazing muscians. Sting and Adam Clayton are ok bass players, but hardly in the same league as Geddy Lee. Alex Lifeson is extremely underated as a musician, and what else can be said about Neal? Agreed, Yes are amazing muscians, but what have they done lately? Have they even recorded a recent album? Last time I checked, they were doing the small hall and casino circuit. Where is the once powerhouse U2? Rush had one of the most successful tours ever, had a huge album with "Clockwork Angels", and their dvd release of the tour debuted at #1. After 40 years, they are still vital and valid. The Rolling Stones can't even say that...when was the last GREAT Stones album? Some Girls? Tatoo You? 30 years ago?

david_b said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa.., Tony. As a lover of all things Keith, obviously the MEMORABLE Stones albums have long since past (as Karen would earnestly agree), but perhaps I'm more charitable in my devotion.

Depends on how greatness it defined and by which generation.. Some newer fans think 'Start Me Up' was one of their best, when I tend to harken back to their 'Five By Five' days. I also liked 'Voodoo Lounge' was a fairly memorable album of the '90s, as I still play some tracks along side tracks off Sticky Fingers and Exile. Other than some cuts off Let It Bleed, I didn't think that was a particularly good album.

I do agree in part with Karen that they've only reliving their past glories for the last 30yrs crankin' out weak rewrites, but other than the 'classic rock' geeks out there, it hasn't hurt their concert intake thanks to folks who, well like McCartney, just want to see 'em live; they still outdo most of the current bands by millions.

I recall when Darryl Jones was invited to replace Bill Wyman on bass, he was a bit intimidated at first with filling Wyman's shoes; Jagger basically replied, "Don't be, he wasn't THAT great..."

As for U2, I seriously agree with most purists that they shark-jumped with the presumptuous 'Rattle and Hum' mis-step. They sort of wandered off into a new 'heavy rock' direction that the original fans didn't see coming.

As for the topic, I'd say perhaps the Who (Keith Moon days) or Cream, but I'd say that for the Beatles as well.

Greg said...

Rush would be at the top of my list. I was lucky enough to see them this past summer for the fifth time, and honestly expected them to have perhaps lost a step. Um, no. They were amazing live and it was one of the best shows I've seen. It blows my mind how good they are at their age and this stage of their career.

Seeing YYZ live is a sublime experience as far as I'm concerned. :)

Zeppelin and the Who, agree with those. I've always been a big fan of David Gilmour, although I wouldn't say every musician in Floyd was a virtuoso.

Steve Does Comics said...

I'm not really into bands showing off their technical prowess, so I'll go for The Attractions who never noodled but, to my untutored ears, always sounded to be a very very capable set of musicians.

Horace said...

Several years ago, I went to see Guns & Roses play the Warfield in San Francisco. It was one of their later lineups. Basically, Axl Rose backed by a drummer, a bass player, a keyboard player (Dizzy Reed), and four guitarists.

Watching it, I thought, "Axl has crowded the stage with guitars. He doesn't want any of his guitarists to stick out."

And, that's the opposite of bands like Cream, The Who (Moon era), Led Zeppelin and Rush. For the most part, these bands only had a drummer and two melodic instruments on stage. As a consequence, they had a lot of space to fill. Plenty of room for all the players to shine.

-Horace Austin

Doug said...

Horace, thanks again for the comment you'd made that got us going on this post.

I think we can also make a separation between artists who are mainly showmen and are quite average at playing. Who does a better show than KISS, but yet sounds like a good garage band?


Anonymous said...

hey, just wanted to say that I saw Rush for the first time in my life this summer here in Berlin/Germany.

They are incredible!!!! Honestly, I sat there with my mouth open and was just mesmerized... maybe that's because I waited twenty years to see them:-)


Anonymous said...

I read a lot of rock and music literature, and a lot of stuff pertains to ROXY MUSIC. Those guys were supposed to be somewhat "genius" (well, according to these writers). I don't know, I've listened to it, and I just don't get it. I guess it was "cutting edge" for the time. I think it's horrible, almost MUZAK.

I'm pretty sure a lot of contributers here are a bit older than me (39) and I was too young for the mid 70s stuff. Any fans of Roxy Music or Eno/Ferry stuff out there? I'm surprised they are so critically hyped, IMO.

Oh, right now I'm on a WINGS kick, but ol' Linda ruins that "virtuoso band" theory--ha-ha!


J.A. Morris said...

david_b mentioned the Beatles, I'm going with them even if they never took 8-minute solos. McCartney, Harrison and Ringo were excellent instrumentalists. Lennon was the weakest, but he didn't suck at guitar & piano. I'd say his singing & songwriting make up for his lack of "virtuoso" musicianship.

Fred W. Hill said...

Of course, being able to write great songs not to mention having one of the best producers in the industry also counts for a lot, J.A.! Of my favorite bands, I can't think of any that released a significant number of studio albums and in which every member is a famed virtuoso. I like Cream, for example, but they only released 4 lps (not counting various compilations). The classic Who line-up comes closest to the criteria, and IMO Townshend was one of the best rock songwriters ever. Another of my favorites is the Kinks -- Ray & Dave & pals came up with some great songs during their career, despite none of them being virtuoso musicians. Their drummer, Mick Avery, even got himself canned by the Stones before they latched onto Charlie Watts. Ah, well, at least his luck wasn't nearly as bad as Pete Best's.

Mark Morrison said...

A big Joe Satriani fan. Saw him in Anaheim Ca. in 2006. Joe had Dave LaRue (bass),Jeff Campiteli (drums) and Galen Henson (guitar). Here is a sample.


Ace Frehley Jr said...

MUSE Nuff Said.

Tony said...

By definition of today's topic, Rush are vituosos. All of them are probably the premier, or close enough to it, musicians of their instruments. Mick Jagger, is a great frontman, but a mediocre guitar player at best. Same for Roger Daltry, probably one of the best rock vocalists ever, but barely passable on guitar. You could put up a valid argument for The Beatles, but I wouldn't classify Ringo as one of the best drummers ever. He was solid, if unremarkable. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Keef fan, but I don't see the Stones as THE BEST musicians of their instruments. The boys from Rush, simply are.

Rip Jagger said...

The first band that came to mind was ELP (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) a band specifically formed to feature the particular talents of the three members Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, and Carl Palmer. They always seemed to me to be solo artists together on a stage rather than a complete band and the name suggests as much.

Rip Off

david_b said...

Sidenote, I really liked J.A.'s comments about Lennon. By his own admission he was a mediocre musician, technically not very accomplished, but as he said once, he could make his guitar 'howl'. He brought more a uneasy spirit and spark which none of the others could muster. Just listening to his simplest of love songs ('Love'), it's achingly apparent that he was at times flawed, but also a flawed genius to be able to tap into the core of emotions, even when he was pressured to keep the sound commercial, like 'Help!'.

Virtuoso..? Yes, in a far deeper sense than someone who simply knows how to play a guitar well.

Joseph said...

When I was a youngster (the 12-14 range in the early 80s), my buddies and I created a Rock Wars game/chart where we pitted bands against each other based on their musical instrument prowess. The Who and Rush were the ultimate winners (not coincidentally they were also our favorite bands). I'd have a hard time arguing that same outcome now, though Led Zep might be a major challenger.

Looking back, one of the strangest entries we had that held their own was the supergroup ASIA (with Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, and Carl Palmer). I think we actually had them "beating" the Beatles and Stones in their virtuoso-ness.

Edo Bosnar said...

Joseph, I really liked Asia back then as well (mainly had to do with Howe, as I was - and still am - a big Yes fan). And as for them beating the Beatles in your Rock Wars, well, that's par for the course in the early '80s. Back then I remember a local radio station had these band wars that were done like a sports bracket, and each night listeners called in to vote on two bands - I remember being really outraged at one point when Journey beat the Beatles.

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